Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Does the Higgs Boson particle make God irrelevant?

In a July 9 article, atheist physicist Lawrence Krauss announced that, with the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, humans "may have just taken a giant step toward replacing metaphysical speculation with empirically verifiable knowledge." It's a funny thing about scientific materialists: Whenever they announce the demise of philosophy, you discover very quickly that they are engaging in it in the very act of pronouncing it dead. Krauss is no different.

 Krauss, says Oxford mathematician and philosopher of science John Lennox:
Krauss has not taken that giant step himself, since his statement, far from being a statement of science, is another metaphysical speculation - a mixture of hubris and an inadequate concept of God.
Krauss has continuing trouble even figuring out the difference between science and metaphysics, as is evident from his recent book A Universe from Nothing, in which he confuses the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" and the question "How did something come from nothing." In fact, as it transpires, he's completely confused about what the term "nothing" even means.

Apparently this confusion extends to a few other things. Says Lennox:
What does Krauss mean by "more relevant than God?" Relevant to what? Clearly the Higgs particle is more relevant than God to the question of how the universe works. But not to the question why there is a universe in which particle physics can be done. The internal combustion engine is arguably more relevant than Henry Ford to the question of how a car works, but not for why it exists in the first place. Confusing mechanism and/or law on the one hand and agency on the other, as Krauss does here, is a category mistake easily made by ignoring metaphysics. 
Read the rest here.

26 comments:

ZPenn said...

This is irrelevant to the argument, but I should point out that Henry Ford had absolutely nothing to do with the invention or even improvement of the internal combustion engine. His innovations were mostly in business, such as his dedication to the welfare of his employees in order to increase productivity, making cars with assembly lines rather than by hand crafting to lower costs for consumers, and a commitment to streamlining business costs. I know this isn't relevant, so I'll just replace the metaphor with "inventor who actually invented some invention is less relevant to how the invention works than what is actually making it work." And leave it at that.

I find it amusing that Professor Lennox is quick to attack Krauss' poor arguments just before making the ridiculous claim that belief in God convinced people like Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Maxwell, and Babbage that "science could be done". That's really rich.

Lennox quotes Melvin Calvin as saying "...this monotheistic view seems to be the foundation for modern science". Really? On what grounds? That kind of claim certainly needs evidence; I see evidence of a belief in God getting in the way of modern science, particularly in the realm of the intelligent design movement, but I don't see much evidence of a belief in God driving scientific discovery. Where is this occurring?

Lennox also says that Newton didn't give up his belief in God because of his discovery of the Law of gravitation. I fail to see the relevance of this. Newton also didn't give up his beliefs in the Occult, and in alchemy. He didn't give up his belief in a hidden code within the words of the bible (yes, he believed in "bible code!"). Ironically, by any theologian of the time's standards (or many modern theologians for that matter), Newton would have been considered a heretic. Why do his ideas which aren't part of classical mechanics matter at all? They don't. The pieces of Isaac Newton which weren't scientific died away. The parts of Isaac Newton that were scientific survived. His belief or lack of belief in God are in no way relevant to his work in classical mechanics.

Lennox's equating of "supernatural shenanigans" and Krauss' propositions about the origins of the universe shows a clear misunderstanding of both what Krauss means when he says "nothing", and also the difference between science and religion. There is no evidence which makes the creation of our universe by an intelligent deity plausible. There is evidence which makes the claims of Dr Krauss plausible. We certainly have a lot more experiments to run and evidence to collect before we can be very confident in Krauss' claims, but they are currently one of the best models for the data that we currently have. The difference between Krauss' claims and the claims of theists is that Krauss' claims are falsifiable. We can collect more data. We can test them. We can find out that they are entirely wrong, or we can collect more data that makes us more confident in their veracity. There is no source of new evidence that we can use to falsify or verify God. We can't test it. We have no reason to believe it.

If we can't test God, but we can test the claims of scientists, how is it that professor Lennox views these ideas as equal?

Singring said...

It never ceases to amaze me with what nonchalance Lennox manages to shoot himself in the foot.

Here we have him bloviating (and I have heard him use this cringeworthy Ford analogy before, to my regret) about how Krauss is making a category mistake and to illustrate his point, Lennox ingeniously decides - sans any apparent sense of irony - to make a category mistake! Brilliant (if utterly unintended, I presume)!

Lennox says that Henry Ford is relevant to 'why' a car works (though not really, as ZPenn has spotted, look to Carl Benz for that) just as God is relevant to 'why' the universe works the way it does - and that's why Krauss is making a category mistake and we should instead turn to philosophers to answer this burning 'why' question.

But how do we know that Henry Ford is relevant to 'why' the car engine works? Did philosophers figure this one out for us, just like they analogously would sort out for us how God is relevant to 'why' the universe works?

Nope. To find out how relevant or not Ford is to 'why' the car engine works, we turn to historians. Historians who use empirical evidence (historical documents, photographs etc.) to find out if this person, Henry Ford, really existed and how he - and not Joe Schmo on the street - was relevant to 'why' the car engine works.

So right off the bat, Lennox falls flat on his face and inadvertently exposes that not only does he not have any good evidence for God (otherwise why would he have to rely on such a shoddy analogy to make his point and not just point to - you, know - the *actual* way God explains 'why' the universe works), he in fact has not a single example for anything metaphysical explaining the 'why' of anything in the universe at all.

Instead, to make claims about how metaphysics can explain the 'why', he resorts to painting an analogy about how empirical science can explain the 'why'.

And the shell game continues.

Thomas said...

Singring,

Lennox did not say that Ford is relevant to "why a car works" but rather "why cars exist in the first place."

Sometimes I can't tell if you are just a grossly negligent reader or if you deliberately misrepresent the arguments of others so that when they correct you can claim they are playing a "shell game."

Singring said...

'Sometimes I can't tell if you are just a grossly negligent reader or if you deliberately misrepresent the arguments of others so that when they correct you can claim they are playing a "shell game."'

Thanks for the correction, I got mixed up somewhere along the way when i was trying to make the language in my post consistent.

However, my argument still applies, so why don't you engage with that?

ZPenn said...

Thomas:

I believe his point is still valid. To know "why cars exist in the first place", we still rely on empirical evidence from historians. His wording may have been imperfect, but it is still clear to me the point he was arguing.

Also, you should probably note that he said "shell game" before anyone had corrected him. Are you deliberately misrepresenting his argument? I don't think you are, but you should be careful before you accuse others of intentional misrepresentation. That intentional word is a little strong.

Singring said...

Here is the corrected version of my earlier post (thanks to Thomas for pointing out my mistake):

'It never ceases to amaze me with what nonchalance Lennox manages to shoot himself in the foot.

Here we have him bloviating (and I have heard him use this cringeworthy Ford analogy before, to my regret) about how Krauss is making a category mistake and to illustrate his point, Lennox ingeniously decides - sans any apparent sense of irony - to make a category mistake! Brilliant (if utterly unintended, I presume)!

Lennox says that Henry Ford is relevant to 'why' a car exists (though not really, as ZPenn has spotted, look to Carl Benz for that) just as God is relevant to 'why' the universe exists - and that's why Krauss is making a category mistake and we should instead turn to philosophers to answer this burning 'why' question.

But how do we know that Henry Ford is relevant to 'why' the car exists? Did philosophers figure this one out for us, just like they analogously would sort out for us how God is relevant to 'why' the universe exists?

Nope. To find out how relevant or not Ford is to 'why' the car exists, we turn to historians. Historians who use empirical evidence (historical documents, photographs etc.) to find out if this person, Henry Ford, really existed and how he - and not Joe Schmo on the street - was relevant to 'why' car exists.

So right off the bat, Lennox falls flat on his face and inadvertently exposes that not only does he not have any good evidence for God (otherwise why would he have to rely on such a shoddy analogy to make his point and not just point to - you, know - the *actual* way God explains 'why' the universe exists), he in fact has not a single example for anything metaphysical explaining the 'why' of anything existing.

Instead, to make claims about how metaphysics can explain the 'why', he resorts to painting an analogy about how empirical science can explain the 'why'.

And the shell game continues.

Singring said...

Thanks, ZPenn, as you can see from my corrected post, I agree with you that my point still applies.

I could try to make excuses for why I made that mistake earlier, but why bother. It was indeed a mistake in my wording and Thomas spotted it well, so thanks to both of you for your comments.

Now that it is corrected, I am curious if Thomas sees a problem with the content of my argument.

Thomas said...

His point is simply that a mechanistic explanation can be complete for its own purposes even if it excludes certain kinds of agency questions other disciplines, for example philosophy and history, deal with.

An account of a car given by physics can be complete as a physical account without being an exhaustive account. A historical account of the car would be incomplete for historical purposes if it omitted Henry Ford's production methods, for example, because historical methods ask different kinds of agency questions than physics does. To say that physics offers an exclusive account is to make a methodological error.

Philosophy likewise asks different kinds of agency questions--though historical and philosophical methods have a very complicated relationship to one another that can't be sorted out in general. The type of historicism that goes on in Hegel is radically different than that of Foucault, for example.

Singring said...

'A historical account of the car would be incomplete for historical purposes if it omitted Henry Ford's production methods, for example, because historical methods ask different kinds of agency questions than physics does.'

This is true, of course, but the reason we look for agency different from naked physics in something like a car is, of course, for the simple reason that we have ample empirical evidence that cars are designed, built and driven by humans. We therefore have very good reason to look for the human agency behind their creation, because we also have good empirical evidence to suggest that humans act with certain conscious goals or intents in mind (whether these are free from physical determinism themselves is another matter, of course).

So in the case of car, for example, we justify our search for agency by the empirical evidence we have that a) humans build cars and b) humans act as agents.

So before Lennox can apply this analogy to God and - more generally - the practice of metaphysics to answer his 'why' questions, he ought to justify why we should even be looking for agency when it comes to the existence of the universe. are there any good reasons for us to even expect that there is the same kind of agency involved in the origin of the universe - and what kind of reasons are these?

If he fails to do so, he is simply question-begging.

'Philosophy likewise asks different kinds of agency questions--though historical and philosophical methods have a very complicated relationship to one another that can't be sorted out in general. The type of historicism that goes on in Hegel is radically different than that of Foucault, for example.'

I will take your word for this since I am - as you know - not well-versed enough in philosophy to know about this.

However, this does not answer the question of why we should be looking for agency to explain 'why' the universe exists. Surely, there cannot be an a priori requirement to assume this kind of agency since theists like Lennox are very happy to say that God exists without causal agent and to ask 'why' he exists is nonsensical by virtue of the definition of God.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

So, if the Martian rover discovered a sign that said, in plain letters, "Welcome earthlings! Enjoy your stay," would we be justified in concluding that there was a personal intelligence that authored it? If so, why?

ZPenn said...

Mr Cothran:

I think we could probably make the assumption that this kind of message was authored by an intelligent being. I don't know what the point of this hypothetical situation is though. I don't see any cosmic picket signs from Jesus declaring his deity. I also don't think it likely that we'll discover any messages written in human languages on the surface of Mars.

Martin Cothran said...

ZPenn,

You must have missed Singrings comment in which he said: "So in the case of car, for example, we justify our search for agency by the empirical evidence we have that a) humans build cars and b) humans act as agents."

We have no similar experience of non-humans writing welcome messages on other planets. So how do we justify the inference to a living agent?

ZPenn said...

Mr Cothran:

The big problem with this analogy is that there is no reason to expect that we will ever find such a message. It's a ridiculous scenario, and in such a ridiculous scenario one might have a ridiculous explanation such as intelligent martians leaving us messages. You might as well ask me that if I die and appear in heaven, and Jesus Himself tells me, "sorry, you were wrong, I'm real" will I assume that God exists.

Or maybe you could propose to me a situation in which I find a book that details every thought I ever had, and tell me that this record of my thoughts has been recorded meticulously by top secret government researches. After reading the book, and verifying that it indeed held every single thought I had ever had, I would be compelled to believe that this brain reading technology must exist. The problem with the hypothetical is that the situation is absurd. However, if some message that humans could read was found on Mars, there are very few rational explanations for this besides a intelligence. I think the most likely scenario for human language appearing on Mars would have to be that we put it there ourselves.

I've rambled on a bit, but I don't appear to have addressed your actual question directly, so I'll do it now. How do we justify our belief that such a message must have been written by a living agent? Because the only thing in the universe we know of that uses this kind of communication is a living being. The empirical evidence tells us that living beings communicate in this way, so it is likely that living beings were the reason for such a message. It is not an absolute certainty, but it is the most likely answer in the case that such an unlikely event occurs.

Martin Cothran said...

ZPenn,

The empirical evidence tells us that living beings communicate in this way, so it is likely that living beings were the reason for such a message.

Nope. Sorry.

We have only evidence of human beings communicating in this way. We have no evidence of any non-human life form communicating in this way. None.

If you know of one, please feel free to identify it.

ZPenn said...

You are totally misrepresenting my argument.

"The empirical evidence tells us that living beings communicate in this way, so it is likely that living beings were the reason for such a message"

OK, so I wasn't specific enough. However, you should probably note that human beings are in fact contained within the set "living beings". You should also note that I said

" I think the most likely scenario for human language appearing on Mars would have to be that we put it there ourselves."

Because I find it highly unlikely that some other intelligent beings besides us would ever use our language. However, I don't think it is impossible. Who knows, maybe some highly advanced life form could study humanity and learn our language. Due to the extreme distances between stars in our galaxy, it is unlikely that we will ever find any such beings (if they live in our solar system, they totally win at hide-and-seek), and therefore any human language messages not planted by humans, but I'm glad that you got to spring the logical trap you set up for Singring. Honestly, I was curious to see what you had up your sleeve. It's a shame that all you had was an attack on empirical evidence being "limited" in a hypothetical situation. If only this hypothetical situation weren't ridiculous.

Martin Cothran said...

ZPenn,

I find it highly unlikely that some other intelligent beings besides us would ever use our language.

That's fine. Change the language to any other language, including an alien one, it wouldn't matter to my point.

Martin Cothran said...

ZPenn,

you should probably note that human beings are in fact contained within the set "living beings"

I didn't say they weren't, but from the fact that human beings use language and human beings are living things, that says nothing about the linguistic capabilities of non-human living things.

Your argument was:

All human beings use language
All human beings are living things
Therefore, All living things use language

This is the fallacy of illicit minor (your conclusion uses the minor term 'living things' universally in the conclusion, but only particularly in the premise)

Martin Cothran said...

ZPenn,

You also question my use of the hypothetical on the grounds that it is unlikely. It doesn't matter how unlikely it is, all that matters is the material relating between the antecedent and consequent.

The whole point of being a hypothetical is to talk about a relation in the ideal. It doesn't matter how unlikely it is.

Just use an alien language. That should solve your problem anyway.

ZPenn said...

I'm sorry, I don't remember ever saying, or implying "all living things use language". This would be a ridiculous statement for me to make.

Also, I do think the likelihood of your hypothetical is important. If a man who claimed to be Allah, the god of Islam, came down to earth on a cloud and began healing the sick, raising the dead, and performing miracles (and not just faith-healing miracles: but real, undeniable miracles which were tested in scientific conditions and proven beyond the shadow of a doubt to be truly divine works), would you believe in Islam? This is a ridiculous hypothetical because you and I both know that this kind of thing will never happen. Allah does not exist, and he will never, ever appear on our planet, and no supernatural occurrences will ever be verified scientifically, so it is completely useless to waste our time thinking about it.

Singring said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Singring said...

'So, if the Martian rover discovered a sign that said, in plain letters, "Welcome earthlings! Enjoy your stay," would we be justified in concluding that there was a personal intelligence that authored it? If so, why?'

Ah yes, the old ID canards come out, this is fun. Maybe next you'll ask me about Paley's watch?

To respond:

If the Mars rover were to send back an image showing such a sign, my first suspicion would be that either someone tampered with the files or the data transmission. If, however, we could conclusively rule out that anyone tampered with the data and that there actually was a sign with those words on it on Mars (in English, no less), just like ZPenn, I would *of course* infer that an intelligent agent was involved. But just like ZPenn, my reason for doing so would be that I have ample empirical evidence of intelligent agents putting up such signs around earth, so I have prior experience of such signs being created with agency and I have templates I can compare that Marsian sign to that will confirm my hypothesis.

So again it is once again my prior empirical experience of what is and isn't constructed with agency that allows me to make these inferences. Detecting agency is a wholly different matter when it come to objects we have no empirical experience of being 'designed' in this way, which is why the analogies and hypotheticals you and ID proponents always come up with are invariably tied to our experience of human agents. Why? Because we would have *no clue* how to detect agency resulting from other, wholly unfamiliar agents.

That's why you have to rely on these pathetic analogies to cars or watches or signs in English, because they appeal to our prior empirical evidence and intuitions.

To illustrate that you would have no idea how to detect agency in cases where the example isn't tied to our empirical evidence is trivial:

Suppose I give you these two sequences of letters:

mnjxbfkenvmxbfjxb
kdnbrbvjhsxkdnvchsvb

and told you that one of them was just a sequence of random letters I typed out blindly, but the other was a sequence of letters I carefully typed in with intention to create a sequence that looks pleasing to my eye - how would you distinguish between the two? How would you detect which is a sign of agency and which is just a random garble.

The same applies to art, artifacts, you name it - which of these is the result of agency, for example?

http://www.dchstone.com/pic/2010650282254282.jpg

http://theselvedgeyard.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/537824867_930119d160_b.jpg

Let's take this a step further:

'Just use an alien language. That should solve your problem anyway.'

Oh, is it really that easy? Ok then, let's take these sequences of letters:

jdyfh
dSpif
pItlh
xgaof
vrWop

Again, suppose I tell you that one of those words is a word in an alien language, the others aren't. How would you figure out which one is and which one isn't? And this would be an example of an alien language that would be transcribable in the roman alphabet. Imagine if these aliens were communicating via light or some other electromagnetic frequency or maybe some other way wholly unfamiliar to us. It would be incredibly difficult if not impossible to figure out any agency behind those communications, because all we can look for (and this is precisely what SETI does) are patterns that we, from our experience of how human agents communicate, consider to be modes of communication.

Neither you nor anyone else would have the first clue as to how to detect agency in situations that do not resemble our experience of human agency, which is why you always, as predictable as the swing of an old, cobwebbed pendulum, always resort to these awful, anthropomorphic examples that are intended to appeal to the intuitions of credulous audiences, but don't even stand up to the most rudimentary scrutiny.

Thomas said...

Singring,

Of course we have empirical evidence cars are designed, but it's not the kind of empirical evidence gained through testing, it comes through ordinary experience and historical research.

Empirical evidence isn't limited the strict sciences; in fact, sciences such as physics have a much greater dependence on abstract concepts and non-sensory data than, for example, phenomenology--a philosophical discipline.

Singring said...

'Of course we have empirical evidence cars are designed, but it's not the kind of empirical evidence gained through testing, it comes through ordinary experience and historical research.

Empirical evidence isn't limited the strict sciences; in fact, sciences such as physics have a much greater dependence on abstract concepts and non-sensory data than, for example, phenomenology--a philosophical discipline.'

I don't dispute any of this, Thomas. But it doesn't divorce the examples of 'agency requirements' we are given by Lennox, for example, from the empirical evidence.

I would argue, however, that the questions of cars being designed by humans can quite easily be tested empirically (though maybe not easily in the traditional sense of controlled experiments, I agree). It is the sheer fact that we so commonly and repeatedly have direct empirical evidence of cars being created by humans that we can't really be bothered with putting it to the scientific test - doing that seems superfluous.

Thomas said...

Singring,

I imagine that Lennox might say we also have empirical evidence of the contingency of natural things: the experience that things come in and out of being. That is, after all, gist of the cosmological argument.

Singring said...

Thomas,

that's an interesting assertion you make and it takes me back to a discussion we had a while back on the contingency argument that, unfortunately, stalled somewhere at the quantum level if I remember correctly, so this would be a great opportunity to carry that to its conclusion.

Apart from that, however, the contingency argument you sketch here has a number of severe flaws:

1.) How do you define things 'coming in and out of existence' in the universe? Of course, we all in common parlance will imply that things do this (e.g. 'My car was built in 1997'), but is that really the case if we examine things more closely.

For example, to stay with the example of cars, when does a particular car 'come into existence'? Is it the moment the first part arrives at the factory (but then when did that part 'come into existence')? Is it when the first two parts were assembled? Is it when the last part is assembled (and what is the last part - the one that makes the car operational in terms of driving from A to B or is it the one that completes the car according to the blueprints)? If the criterion for a car suddenly 'coming into being' is for the last part to be assembled, then does it just as suddenly 'go out of being' when the hubcap falls off?

So clearly, speaking of 'things coming in and out of being' is not as clear cut as you make it out to be and this is a severe problem if you want to use that kind of analogy to illustrate the origin of the universe, which - according to our best knowledge - in fact originated in a radically different way, with both time and space dimensions originating (as far as we know) completely without similar antecedent component parts as in the case of the car. So the way we may argue that things inside the universe 'come in and out of being', is really quite inappropriate when we consider the (apparently) spontaneous and non-assembled origin of the universe itself.

Again, this 'coming into being' talk may appeal to our intuitions and everyday empirical experience (which is precisely why William Lane Craig and Lennox et al. love presenting them to their rapt audiences), but it is really quite out of place the discussion of the origins of the universe.

2.) Even if we grant that things within the universe 'come in and out of being' in the exact way you propose they do, to use this analogy to argue for the origin of the universe having 'come into being' in the same way commits the fallacy of composition. Just because all parts of the universe 'come into being' contingently (and not even that premise seems to be borne out by the evidence of QM) does not for a moment imply that the universe is contingent itself. In fact, the evidence Krauss et al. are presenting points in the exact opposite direction - i.e. that the universe may be necessary, not contingent, in its existence. I have quoted Krauss here before saying as much, but it seems that no matter how many times he says it, people like Lennox believe they are in a better position to tell him what the empirical evidence is indicating because they know that Henry Ford is one of the reasons 'why' a car exists.

If that kind of talk satisfies you intellectually, then good for you. I'd rather listen to a physicist explain to me the properties of the universe than a mathematician/theologian who knows God exists in the same way that he knows his wife loves him (another of Lennox' favourite 'arguments').

Singring said...

3.) When you (or Lennox) say that things 'come into existence', then obviously you are making the statement that there was a time X when the thing you are referring to did not exist and that there was a time Y following on immediately from X when the thing does exist.

Time originated with the universe.

Therefore, there was literally no time X at which the universe did not exist. It should be immediately obvious that it could therefore not have 'come into being' (at least not in the way relevant to the contingency argument you have outlined). If you want to argue that when you say that 'things come into being' you are not arguing temporally but simply in terms of these things being contingent, then I would simply point you to my response number 2.